Researchers from Stirling University examined smokers’ attitudes to cigarette packaging through eight focus groups in Glasgow, consisting of 54 smokers aged 18 to 35.
Smokers were asked about their attitudes to different packets. They were each designed to open either like a book, slide open sideways or made to resemble a lighter with a flip top. Men were generally not influenced by the different designs, with none indicating they would change their brand for the sake of the design.
Women were more positive than men with some women saying the book-opening packet was cool or would impress people. When shown long and narrow ‘perfume’ packets of super-slim cigarettes women were impressed, using terms like cute, cool, pretty, glamorous and sophisticated.
Also many of the women thought this packet was a sign the cigarettes were less harmful, with some commenting that “they don’t look as bad for you”.
Nearly all smokers associated coloured, plain packets (white, green, light blue, red) – that only had health warnings and no name, description or tar or nicotine levels – with cigarette strength. Red packs were seen as full strength, green as menthol, and light blue and white thought to be low or ultra low tar.
When shown four differently coloured plain packets (grey, beige, dark grey and dark brown) all groups disliked them. They were described as looking cheap, bland, dull, boring and unattractive. The lighter coloured packets were said to be more attractive than the darker ones. The lighter colours were seen to indicate less harmful cigarettes.
Although some smokers thought the dark grey was a negative colour – associating it with ash and death – it was the dark brown pack that was disliked the most. It was variously described as horrific, ugly and associated with excrement, dirt, mud, tar and rust.
Dr Crawford Moodie, lead researcher based at the University of Stirling, said: “It’s clear that smokers react to tobacco packaging in different ways and women appear to be particularly receptive to this silent salesman. Indeed, it was found that even after removing the branding from packaging, slim shaped packaging was still perceived quite positively by some women.
“With Cancer Research UK’s support we’re now looking at using this research as a basis for further research into the attitude of women smokers to tobacco packaging and how this is influenced.”
The UK government is expected to begin a public consultation on the future of tobacco packaging in late 2011. If the UK was to remove all marketing from tobacco packaging it would be second only to Australia.
The Australian government has announced that all tobacco must be sold in plain packaging from July 1, 2012 and that graphic health warnings will cover 75 per cent of the front and 90 per cent of the back of packs.
Jean King, Cancer Research UK’s director of tobacco control, said: “This research offers a revealing insight into the power of the cigarette packet. For too long the tobacco industry has been able to influence smokers’ perceptions through subtle marketing techniques.
“But wrapping tobacco in plain packets with prominent picture health warnings would help remove this influence. It’s important to remember that half of all long term smokers will die from the addiction so it’s vital we do all we can to help smokers to quit and stop young people from starting.”
For media enquiries contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 8300 or, out of hours, on 07050 264 059.
Moodie, C., & Ford, A. (2011). Young adult smokers’ perceptions of cigarette pack innovation, pack colour and plain packaging Australasian Marketing Journal (AMJ), 19 (3), 174-180 DOI: 10.1016/j.ausmj.2011.05.003
Notes to editors
There were 28 young women and 26 young men included in the focus groups.